Light based chips are nearly a reality, and NASA is planning to put them to use in their projects. NASA is currently developing a modem using this technology to allow faster communication between earth and spacecraft in low geosynchronous (stays above the same spot on the planet all the time) orbits.
The modem is due to go into service in 2019, as part of the ‘Laser Communications Relay Demonstration’ (LCRD). The device is being named the LCRD LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) User Modem Amplifier or ILLUMA.
NASA has always relied on radio frequency based communications, similar to a very high powered car radio for example, the ILLUMA will be NASA’s step towards newer forms of communication, allowing for data to be sent 10 to 100 times faster via light, as well as requiring significantly less power and mass, thus making it far better suited to space.
The current problem with communication within space travel is landers like curiosity and probes can only send pictures due to limitations with data. With this technology NASA hopes to be able to transmit high resolution video and begin to break down the communication barrier with space – imagine having a Skype call with someone sitting on the moon for instance…